charity shop shopping tips

As someone who has spent quite a large part of my life rooting around in charity shops I like to think I know a thing or two about tips for charity shop shopping, so I thought I’d share my ten top charity shop tips with you today:

1.  Make A List And Do Some Groundwork

My first of ten charity shop tips is having a good idea of what you’re hoping to find in advance.  This can save you a heap of money, rather than just jumping in and buying whatever looks nice.  I’ve made the mistake in the past of buying things that look nice in the shop, but when I got home didn’t go with anything in my wardrobe, leaving me with a wardrobe full of clothes but nothing to wear.  Now I have a firm idea of what I’m looking for – just now it’s a couple of tops to go with jeans.  This means I can scan rails quite quickly if I’m in rush.

I’d also advise figuring out which colours and styles look good on you before going shopping.  I like pattern and strong colours – beiges and pale colours don’t suit me at all, so I don’t waste time and energy looking in the beige aisle.

2.  Pick Your Area

Different areas tend to have different characteristics.  I know a lot of people that like to stick to more affluent city areas when it comes to charity shopping.  There are pros and cons to this – here you are probably more likely to come across designer clothing and items from the higher end of the high street.  The downside is that prices tend me to be higher.  You’re also more likely to find things like Primark clothing marked up higher than it would be in Primark itself.  Additionally you’ll be in competition with a lot more people, especially if you’re shopping at the weekend.

I do like shopping in these kind of areas, and I have found some good finds over the years, I wouldn’t shop exclusively in them.  If you broaden out your search to less affluent areas you’ll find a broad mix of high-end and lower-end pieces, and prices tend to be cheaper too.  I picked up this Jaeger dress for just £7 a few years ago in quite a studenty area of Edinburgh – not an area I would have associated with Jaeger dresses – so there are surprises to be found!

jaeger dress

The silk scarf was also a charity shop find – just 99p!

I’ve noticed in certain areas of town some charity shops have set up discount stores, where every item is priced at £1.  Unless I’m on a really really tight budget and am prepared to do an awful lot of rummaging then I tend to avoid them as I find them less fun to shop in.  However if you’ve found an amazing bargain in one of these shops then do let me know as I’m prepared to have my eyes opened!

An unexpected place where I’ve had a lot of luck with, particularly in sourcing vintage clothes, are small seaside and countryside towns in the middle of nowhere.  Now, there are various reasons for this,  the happier one of which may be there are less customers interested in vintage clothes in these areas.  I picked up this vintage leather bag in a secondhand shop in a small countryside town in many years ago, really cheaply.  I’d go as far to say it’s my favourite find ever, and I personally love that it’s got a bit of history behind it:

charity shop tips

3.  Pick Your Time 

If you’ve got any days off in the week then these are great times to visit charity shops.  I have found great things at weekends, but more often than not my very best finds have been on weekdays.  Particularly if there’s inclement weather – there’s probably quite a strong correlation between my best finds versus the wettest days!  Fortune favours the brave!

4.  Visit Regularly

 I don’t strike gold every time I visit the charity shop – instead I pop in at regular intervals, say once a week, on my way home from work for a little nosey.  Stock changes on a daily basis so you’re more likely to find what you want by regularly looking.  Just stick to your list so you don’t go crazy!

5.  Be Prepared to Rummage

In normal shops I do a quick browse – in charity shops I devote a bit more time and am prepared to have a good rifle through racks and baskets, unless I’m in a rush.  Shops often put shoes or bags in baskets – you can often unearth good finds if you have the patience to go through them all.

6.  Examine The Items Carefully

No-one wants to find their perfect item, only to get it home and realise it’s ripped, stained, smelly or got a faulty zip.  Check carefully before you pay to avoid any nasty surprises.

7.  Have a rough idea of repair and alteration costs

In my student days I made the mistake of purchasing a cheap dress with a broken zip.  Naively I thought I could fix it – completely under-estimating the level of technical skill required to replace a zip.  After sitting for nearly a year unmended in a pile, I took it to a tailors to get repaired.  Imagine my shock when I was told it would cost me £15 to repair a zip!

The moral is if you’re not handy with a sewing machine, then keep in mind the rough prices that alterations can cost – even basic ones such as shortening trousers or skirts can run to around £10.  Your local tailor or alteration shop may have a price list online, like mine in Edinburgh, or have a leaflet you can carry in your bag.

 charity shopping guide

8.  Check the Labels

Especially for dry clean only labels.  Dry cleaning is expensive – my local dry cleaners charges £11 to dry clean a dress – and as dry cleaning isn’t particularly environmentally friendly, this is something to bear in mind too.

My Jaeger dress is dry clean only but at my own risk I wash it in a cool gentle cycle in my washing machine, and it comes out fine.  I’m not saying this will work for every dry clean item – especially items with pleats or suits – so I can’t recommend it, especially on precious items of clothing.  If you’re willing to take a risk then either a cool gentle machine cycle or a cool hand wash followed by drying on a washing line or clothes horse may be ok, but do be prepared that you might run the risk of ruining something.  Whole Living have put together a guide on how to wash dry cleanable clothes that you might find useful.

If you rarely have time for handwashing then also look out for handwash only labels.  I don’t have time for hand-washing so again I do my hand-washing on a gentle wash cycle in my washing machine, again at my own risk.

9.  Cast Your Search Further Afield

This is one of my favourite charity shop tips!  If you’re female, you can often find gems in the menswear section – think belts, gents cardigans and jumpers.  If you’re petite then check out the kids section too – teenage sizes go up quite large and kidswear is often priced cheaper than adults wear – you never know what you might find!

I also don’t pay too much attention to sizing.  Vintage sizing tends to run differently to modern sizing, and sizing can vary from shop to shop so if I see something I like I try it on, regardless of it’s size.

10.  Give Back

Finally, like any relationship, you can’t just take take take without giving anything back.  Charities are crying out for quality donations and will happily take most items you no longer need.  If you pay tax then ask the charity shop if you can fill in a Gift Aid form when you drop off your donations, meaning charities can reclaim 25% tax from the Government, at no extra cost – making your donations go further.

There were go – that concludes my charity shop tips!  There are probably a million other charity shop tips I could give you – maybe I’ll make a part two to this guide!  If you have any other charity shop tips you want included in part two then leave them below and I’ll be sure to include them, with credit to you!

Also, I’d love to hear if there are any items you wouldn’t consider buying secondhand?  I recently asked on Twitter and had some interesting responses – shoes, underwear, towels and bedding were the most common ones!

ps: if you’ve enjoyed this article you might enjoy my top ten tips for buying clothes on eBay.

All photos by Sam Williamson Photography, an Edinburgh based green wedding photographer,  for Moral Fibres.

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